Having your identity stolen can be a painful and time-consuming experience. Just ask Yvonne Jodhan, marketing and communications consultant with Alternative Asset Research Inc. in Toronto, and a victim of identity theft herself.

Resolving the complicated issues relating to Jodhan’s stolen identity took almost three years, she says.

Identity theft, the deceptive use of the identity information of someone else, living or dead, to commit various fraudulent acts, is the fastest-growing crime in North America, and your clients could be vulnerable.

As clients conduct more and more business online and reveal more information through social media, text and email, they increase the risk of falling victim to this type of fraud.

“Collection agencies hounded me for credit card bills I did not rack up,” Jodhan says. “And the Canada Revenue Agency held up my income tax refund because other individuals had filed their tax returns using my social insurance number.”

You can reduce the chances of your clients being hurt by identity theft by educating them on how to take preventative measures.

Technological tools

Identity thieves use a variety of technological tools to steal information, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), an agency of the government of Canada.

For example “phishing” scammers send emails to clients hoping to get them to enter sensitive banking information into websites that mimic a familiar bank website.

Clients might inadvertently download spyware, which captures sensitive information from their computers. Hackers can break into third-party platforms that hold clients’ sensitive information.

“Skimming” credit card information involves the use of card readers that illegally record credit card information during transactions. The use of “chip and PIN” cards has drastically reduced this type of fraud.

In most cases, victims do not know when or where their identity was stolen.

Jodhan became aware when her credit card was declined while she was trying to make a purchase. When she contacted the credit card company, she discovered that someone had already made more than $18,000 in unauthorized charges on the card.

Here are some tips to share with your clients to prevent identity theft, taken from the Canadian Consumer Handbook on Identity Theft published by the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Consumer Measures Committee:

– Maintain proper security on computers and other electronic devices, including mobile devices. Make sure you have the most current anti-virus protection software available, as well as a firewall.

– Don’t give out personal information over the Internet or on the phone unless you initiated the contact or know who you’re dealing with.

– Store and dispose of personal information securely, including computers, hard drives and mobile devices.

– Use strong passwords on your computer, credit card and other accounts. Keep passwords private.

– Avoid sharing too much personal information on social media.

– Don’t send financial or other confidential information using email or text messaging.

– Don’t open files, click on links or download programs emailed to you by companies or individuals you do not know.

– Make sure Wi-Fi connections are secure.

– Make online purchases and banking transactions only on familiar, trusted websites.

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